Tales of village life

Tales of Village Life
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The Matatu.
Last weekend I visited a family in Budaka district in eastern Uganda, the journey there and back was on the matatu taxi, (which is like a mini bus) it was not too bad as we left from Jinja with a full load of passengers heading for Mbale so didn't have to stop to collect passengers, but on our return it was a different story, the 2 and a half hour journey became a 4 hour journey as the matatu was not full and kept stopping to try and collect more passengers for the journey to Jinja and onto Kampala. One journey on a matatu is worth 100 stories , My two favorite of this journey are the woman who boarded with 2 live chickens in a plastic bag, their heads sticking out through two holes. One kept pecking at the other and the women spent the whole time swiping the pecker over the head. It would squark and soon continue pecking the peckee. And the man who did his week's shopping for the family through the window of the matatu every time we stopped at a town or transport stop. There are always vendors waiting for the matatus and buses and all vying to sell their wares. Anyway this man brought 6 large bags of food and took up 2 seats making the conductor rather annoyed. The conductor spends the whole journey leaning out of the window calling out the destination and trying to get passengers.

Mango fly
We thought jiggers sounded awful but mango fly is a bigger better version. The mango fly lays her eggs on damp clothing, so everytime you hang your washing out, it is likely that a mango fly will find it inviting. The eggs can only survive while the clothing is damp - sunshine or ironing will kill them. The eggs cling to your clothes so that when you wear them they somehow burrow into your skin, become worms, etc. etc. They are much bigger than jiggers and when you discover you have one, you have to wait (while they incubate!!**) until they are ready to squeeze. They come up in a rather large lump which is quite painful. Then you apply vaseline to the lump to cut off their air supply and this makes them come to the surface (a black dot within a minute or two) and they can then be squeezed out. Can you imagine? I am not speaking from first hand experience, thank goodness, but one of our long term volunteers, Rhiannon, had 11 of them on her back along the line of her bra strap. She was very brave throughout the whole ordeal.

The Chapatti
Lumulah is 11 years old. She lives with her sister Sharia 13 and her aunt Fiona 22. Lumulah and Sharia's mother died when they were about 6 and 8 and Fiona has looked after them ever since. Fiona has one child, a son, Mark who just turned 1 and most days Lumulah takes care of him. She will be carrying him around or playing with him in their or someone else's front yard. She can speak quite good English and is a bit of a charmer. I found myself buying her and Mark a chapatti one afternoon this week. It went something like this:
" Mama Jen, will you buy me a sweetie ? "
" No Lumulah, sweeties are not good for you."
" You just saying that because you don't want to buy for me."
( Guilty ! Although you feel like you would like to help and treat all the children, it is not really a good idea to encourage reliance on handouts or even give them the idea of begging, which is definitely NOT in their culture.)
" Why sweeties not good for me ? "
" They are bad for your teeth. A chapatti is much better and it is good to eat."
" Mama Jen buy me a chapatti ? "
So, I was hooked. What could I do. As we walked hand in hand to the chapatti stall, she called to her aunt as we passed the house, that we were going to buy chapatti. A plain chapatti ( fried flat bread ) costs all of 10 cents !

There is a picture on my blog of a baby having a bath in a red plastic bowl. The baby, Shabwa, is now 3 and has a 1 year old baby brother, so her older sister now carries baby Shafiq around and I think Shabwa is a bit jealous. ( By the way Shabwa and Shafiq are about #7 and #8 - I think - in the family ). This morning I found Shabwa following her sister and baby brother and crying. When I tried to give her a comforting hug she was not much interested but when I picked her up, a grin immediately replaced the tears and soon she was smiling and looking down at her sister and brother. We walked to their house where she was quite happy to get down and run inside. It is so easy to spoil these little ones with a bit of affection - no chapatti needed! The children seem to be conditioned to a hard life from such a young age and it is quite unusual to see affection between family members.

And the rain comes down
In the village, it is not only the crops that grow following the rain, everyone grows a little as they walk through the slippery, sticky mud and the mud accumulates on shoes or feet and just sticks! After a very heavy storm during lessons last week, I noticed the women take off their shoes, better to negotiate the mud. This mzungu, ever fearful of jiggers or some other awful creature, keeps her shoes on and slips and slides all the way to my destination.
With no glass in the windows of the classroom, the wind drove the rain across the room so that we all had to huddle on one side and shout at one another during the storm! While we are used to regular visits to our classroom by children, chickens and the odd goat or two, that afternoon a duck waddled in for shelter ( and I thought they liked the rain ! )

The jigger
A comfortable chair and a jigger, two things I acquired this week. I am pleased with my chair but not so with my jigger. For those of you who have not been on this journey with me from the start, I will explain that a jigger is a sand flea that finds its way into your feet, somehow becomes a worm that grows and then eventually leaves eggs that can hatch and travel through your blood stream. Not really very nice. After my experiences with jiggers last year, I knew instantly on Friday night, when my foot started itching, that I had my first jigger for this year. So, armed with my needle ( brought from Oz especially for jiggers ), some tissues and antiseptic, I went to one of the Ugandan women to remove it for me. It's a little like having a splinter removed but instead of an inert piece of wood, there is a wiggly worm. Yuk! The itching has now stopped and the small hole will heal in no time. And it has been removed before any eggs were laid.
My jigger hole has almost disappeared and the children of the woman who removed the jigger, stop me every day to inspect it and to laugh! Each day they have a few more friends to join in the laughter.

Stopping for petrol
Although its easy to fall into the relaxed and rather unregulated life of Africa, now and then I see something that reminds of me where I am - in a village in Uganda.
On the way to town today Steve needed petrol for his boda boda so, as is the custom here if you can't make it to town or the main Kenya-Uganda highway for petrol, you stop at a house that keeps petrol ( presumably in jerry cans ). Steve tooted the horn and a small child, maybe 8 years old at most, came scurrying out of the house with a funnel and an old plastic drink bottle filled with petrol which she handed to Steve who poured the petrol into the tank and gave her the money. She scurried back to the house with the empty bottle, funnel and money grinning at me the whole time. My heart melts for these little ones.

Master Chef, Ugandan style
Last weekend a few of us had cooking lessons with Aunt Rachel (Teddy's aunt). We learned how to cook matoke, sweet potato, yams and pumpkin wrapped in banana leaves and tied with banana fibre, greens (called dodo, spiced cabbage, fried eggplant with onion and curry powder, and the famous and delicious gnut sauce (like a mild sate sauce), and a beef stew. We learned how to sort the rice from the husks and little stones that get mixed in as the rice is dried (spread on the ground). We also learned how to mingle (mix!) millet bread, which was made of cassava flour and millet flour and water and was a tasteless, gritty lump of dough which none of us was very impressed with. After 4 hours, there was quite a feast to eat when cooking class finished. All this was cooked in the garden on 1 wood fuelled fire and 2 small charcoal stoves. The wood fuelled fire is used for the slow cooking items because it is cheaper than the charcoal, although the loss is trees is a serious problem around the villages.
(PS No amount of explaining by the English teacher could convince my Ugandan family that mingle was the word to use when people get together and mix was the correct word for "mingling millet bread"!)

Sunday arvo and down time
It seems like time is just flying by and Saturday in Jinja for the internet seems to be here almost as soon as each week begins. Last weekend it was nice to have a long weekend (because of the Muslim holiday) and on Sunday I decided to hide away avoiding any visiting or chance encounters in which I could be asked to give advice on any number of extraordinary questions covering family planning, the best school in the district or how to start a business and what kind! All quite exhausting. I spent the afternoon sitting on the verandah of the restaurant attached to the luxury Nile Porch lodge. There is a reasonably comfortable sofa and it overlooks the Bujagali Falls. They do homemade bread (real bread!) and dips for $4.00 (outrageously expensive!). I sat nibbling, writing up lesson plans and watching the monkeys in the trees above who were playing and watching the humans who were watching the monkeys. Pretty cool for a Sunday arvo.

A wet boda ride
Last Thursday on my way to lessons at Buwenda which is just a 10 minute boda boda ride, I was caught in a sudden downpour of rain. Both me and the driver were absolutely drenched when we reached the school at Buwenda. The women (surprise, surprise they came even though there was rain) were very intrigued with my dripping wet hair and several of them tried to fix my fringe for me. Their hair is much more resistant to water and doesn't seems to get so wet. In any case they most often have a scarf over their head and sometimes a plastic bag when it rains.

Every day life
Children, children, children, older ones piggy-backing younger ones, mothers with babies tied to their backs by squares of cloth, goats and goats, women and men working in their vegetable gardens, the daily parade of women to and from the river with washing, firewood and jerry cans, clothes spread out on the grass or draped over bushes and tree branches and even laid out on the roof of some houses to dry, green green vegetation and red red soil. It is very damp and humid here so unless you have your washing in direct sunshine it can take some days to dry. Today, I have left my own washing draped over some bushes at Eden Rock campsite.

The smells and sounds of village life
It is the wet season and the village is planting so the smell of freshly turned earth fills the air. In the evening it is the smell of wood fuelled fires. Music is Africa and Africa is music! No village gathering is complete without LOUD music. All sorts of music! And no Ugandan can resist dancing at the sound of music. The muffled roar of the water as it rushes over Bujagali Falls, the bleating of many goats, the mooing of cows, the ubiquitous "hello, how are you?" "I am fine". These are the smells and sounds of life in Bujagali.

Ant trail
The ants! I know we have our fair share of them at home but I have never seen so many, from tiny tiny to monstrous. After a rainy afternoon, I came across an ant exodus. The line went for as far as I could see, it was almost a hand width wide with scouts on the edges. Each ant was huge and they were teeming and seemed to be carrying ant eggs. I had to take a running leap to get over them. Kibbi (our Soft Power volunteer co-ordinator) told me they were safari ants.

Never too old to learn
While I am inspired by and so, so proud of the women who have really learned and improved on their English over the last 3 years, I am touched and equally inspired by my group of "senior" students. These women have never had any form of schooling and they all struggle with their writing and pronunciation but have such fun in class. Their lessons are the highlight of my week. When one succeeds with pronunciation or recognising a word, the whole class claps saying "very good, very good". The successful student does a little dance. We all celebrate. Last week we were all dancing in class and chanting "We are dancing" "We are happy." No wonder I come home from lessons exhausted.

Seeking out the mzungus
One funny story that Silagi once told me and I was reminded of last week as I walked with the children to the river to fill their jerry cans for their evening bath. Natasha, his daughter often asks if she can go with some neighbouring children to the bore hole (water pump) in the village because she wants to see some mzungus! Apparently most tourists on a guided walk through the village ask to see the village pump, so there are often visitors there taking photos so the children go to be in the photos!

Walking Salesmen
A trip to town or a walk through the village always brings more than an African sight or two. On the way to town today there were several walking salesmen. Even on Sunday, these men trudge from village to village to sell their wares. They carry their goods displayed on boards, one on each arm, with a basket on their head and several items hanging from their belt. They sell clothes, bed sheets, shoes, batteries, etc. etc.

Why is it so
Every day my walk through the village makes me wonder:
How can so many of the women wear the traditional gomesi dress (a work one, not a going-out one) which is long and voluminous when they are working in their vegetable gardens in this hot country?
Why aren't there any work benches so that food can be prepared and cooked and washing can be done without bending over?
Do the naked babies sitting on the dirt of their front yards get jiggers in their little bare bottoms?
In this rich fertile soil why don't they grow more of a variety of vegetables?
You can buy almost any veg at the fruit and veg market but the gardens in the village are full of maize (corn), beans (legumes), sweet potato, cassava (a root veg) and little else. Why do the goats want to eat the grass that is right at the end of their tether? (silly goats are all over the world, no doubt).
Is it really easier to carry a rather small packet of sugar or salt on your head rather than in your hand?
Do the young children wielding hoes bigger than themselves or pangas (machetes) as big as them ever chop off a toe or finger or worse?
And what about the small children boiling water over a fire with the pot balanced on three stones?
We mzungus see so much danger in every day Ugandan life. I must admit I don't think twice about getting on a boda boda in shorts, tshirt and sandals with no helmet and riding into town on roads that don't really deserve the name, so am I half Ugandan?

Boda face
You will all be familiar with the term "hat hair" where we have to check the state of our hair when we take off a hat, well in Uganda, we have to check for "boda face" when we get to the end of our boda ride. Boda face is where you find you have a rather orange tan of dust marked by the shape of your sunglasses and requires the use of one or two baby wipes!

The name game
I do so love teaching these beautiful and amazing women and it is the reason I come back each time to Uganda. The Buwenda women have improved with their time keeping and some even came half an hour early to last week's lesson! We have such fun in classes and while it is really a no no in TESOL (or TEFL) teaching to use the local language, I often do, just to greet and farewell. They think it is fantastic and they all leave the school giggling. The most fun we have is the 'name game' and in a class of about 25 it is a real test of my memory. I am applauded by the women for each name I get correct and last week I got them all right! The Kyabirwa women, of course, I know very well and they are friends as well as students. They would be greatly offended if I didn't know their names, which of course I do, so we don't get to play the 'name game' any more. While it is wonderful to have so many women register for lessons it is a shame that I have had to limit each woman to one lesson a week, otherwise I would never have any time off!

A bag full of holes
One night last week as I walked to meet friends for dinner, I found myself part of a procession of about 8 young girls carrying bundles of firewood on their heads. All the women have such fantastic posture as from childhood they balance such loads on their heads. Walking with them was quite lovely - their movements were so flowing and almost musical. And, one afternoon as I walked back from school, I stopped to help a young boy who had his hands full with a bag of potatoes - the bag having more holes than there were potatoes in it - an onion, a 100 shilling coin, a sachet of tea leaves and a small plastic bottle with some oil in it. He kept dropping potatoes, the coin and the onion and his progress home from the shop was painful to watch. I gave him a small plastic bag I had with me for his potatoes, tried to put the tea sachet and coin in his pocket, only to have them fall through all the holes in his pocket! We finally got him loaded up and off he went balancing his load in 2 small hands. Our kids complain about carrying the shopping inside from the car!!

Every morning I work in the office at the Education Centre in the middle of Kyabirwa village getting ready for my afternoon lessons. I love to hear the children singing as they arrive at the Centre for the day. The 2 Soft Power trucks pick them up from their school in the morning and as they reach the "road" into the village you can hear them singing. They are so excited to spend their day at the Centre. One day last week, James who is the drama/life skills tutor at the Centre, was looking through some books that had been donated to see if he could find a theme for the school festival to be held later in the year, when he came across a 3D book. It was the story of the Little Mermaid. He was absolutely mesmerised by the 3D effect. And called two of the other tutuors, Silas and (big) Silagi who were in the office to have a look also. The three grown men were completely charmed by the Little Mermaid and couldn't believe how life-like the book was. I then told them that there are now 3D movies that you can sit and watch wearing the glasses so you feel like you are part of the action. (PS - Silagi, our postman, and the Art teacher at the Centre, is known as (small) Silagi).

Taking shelter
It seems as though the rainy season is about to begin and we have had a couple of evenings of very heavy rain. I am reminded that the mud is probably worse than the dust! Late one afternoon I was walking back through the village to get my boda boda ride to Buwenda when the heavens opened. I had to take shelter under the eaves of a little house and was soon joined by a man also sheltering. Quite soon the owner of the house arrived, wet and muddy, and invited us inside to shelter. First he put out his jerry cans and a bowl to catch the water running off his tin roof and then offered each of us an upturned paint tin to sit on while he stood, waiting for the rain to go. His house was just one room, compacted dirt floor with one end curtained off for a bedroom and the other end containing his few possessions. My first reminder of how lucky I am to have been born where I was!

Telling time, African style
There is the African time that means all Africans are bad timekeepers, although I do know a few Aussies who could pass for African timekeepers. Teddy, my Ugandan daughter, like my sister, Wendy, is nearly always late and should I mention Martha and her penfriend, Marion? ha, ha! But the other African time is in fact a different way of telling the time and maybe part of the reason African's are so often late or early! They tell the time by the hour only and count from day break, so that 7am is the first hour of the day and is 1 o'clock (although they don't say o'clock) and so on, so that our 1 o'clock is their 7 and our 3 o'clock is their 9. Our little joke at the end of each class, after I ask "when is our next lesson", the women say 'on Wednesday at 4 o'clock mzungu time".

My malaria story
I fell sick on a Wednesday night, went to the clinic Thursday morning and after a test for malaria (which took 10 minutes) showed positive, I was given 24 tablets to take 4 every 12 hours over the next 3 days. After the first day I was already feeling OK again and have been up and about since. I only missed 2 lessons and the women were very sympathetic when they knew I had omusuddha (malaria). Really it was 2 days of feeling nauseous and alternating between shivering and sweating. (Just thought you might like to know all the gory details). I am now absolutely fine - no side effects - no after effects. The staff at Eden Rock (especially Rebecca) made sure I ate and drank so I was well looked after. I now know I'm fully recovered because yesterday was a good test.

The mupende club ( Women’s savings group )
My weekend (that I was hoping would be a quiet one!) Among other things I was invited to a party at Harriet's. She is a member of a women's savings group (a mupende club) which works something like this - there are 35 women in the group and every 10 days they have a get together (over which husbands/brothers/sons officiate!). Each member has to pay 3,000 shillings (almost $2) each and then give money (1,000 or 2,000 shillings) or a gift to the hostess of the day. The gift or amount of money is recorded so that this is what you have to give in return to that person when her day comes along. So that over the course of a year you pay out just over 100,000 shillings (about $60) plus whatever you have given as gifts to the other 34 members. On your day you receive the 100,000 shillings or a specific gift to that value (which is from the 3,000 shillings each member has paid) plus the gifts. You do not actually gain any interest in this savings club but you do get a lump sum or major item on your day. Harriet got a bed - the other members had already visited her home to find out what she needed. Apparently, it is very difficult to accumulate money here, so all the women and men have explained to me. They say that whenever they accumulate a little, it ends up going to another family member in trouble or who is very ill, etc. I suspect there is an element of poor finance skills which is part of the 'live in the present' way of life here. Forward planning is not part of their lives when each day it is a struggle to have the food to eat and other life essentials.

Touch your Heart story
Everyday I see how hard life is here in Bujagali and Kyabirwa but up north where the land is not so fertile and there is no water, life must be almost intolerable. Yet the people we met were as friendly, happy and welcoming as those around here. Many have to walk half a day to fill their jerry cans. We saw them trudging through the desert and scrub when we were on the bus.
On our bus journey home from Kidepo a woman (looked like a grandmother) and young girl got on the bus. The girl was no older than 10 and the woman could not afford the girls fare so she had to stand or sit in the aisle while the bus hurtled along the dusty potholed roads. It was hard enough to hang on while seated. I would have happily had her sit on my lap but that was taken by my bag as we were all squeezed into the crowded bus. I would have happily paid her fare but did not realise that was the reason she was stood or sat in the aisle until much later in the journey. The girl didn’t complain once, didn’t cry, didn’t look around, just stayed near her grandmother and endured. Finally the bus started to empty and the conductor relented and let her have a seat next to her grandmother.

Just being there
Each weekend when I think I will have some time to myself, I inevitably end up being invited to visit someone's family, or find myself attending women's group or "helpng" with a problem. So often I am asked, for example, should I take my baby to the clinic for immunization? or should I find a better school for my son? or how can I help my daughter who has just lost her baby to malaria? We then have a long and rather confusing conversation in which I end up confirming their original plans or thoughts as a good idea. I am then thanked hugely for my "help". More than one of these conversations a day can be exhausting!

It is the African way
Every now and then something happens here that bursts my "happy Ugandan bubble". Almost every day something touches my heart but this week something broke it! As I walked through the village from the SP Education Centre to get some lunch, I was confronted by a mother furiously beating her daughter. The girl is about 8 or 10 years old and greets me every day as I pass by and her much younger brothers (who she looks after) are always waiting for a cuddle from a mzungu. Her mother had a big stick and thrashed the girl until she fell to the ground and then she continued beating AND kicking her!! As I moved to intervene, the Ugandan woman I was walking with put her hand on my arm saying: "It is the African way. She is teaching her." Apparently her crime was not washing the dishes when her mother asked her to. It just made me feel sick to the stomach. Beneath the absolute friendliness of a very conservative and religious community, there is an underlying violence that, while I am aware of it, I have never actually witnessed before. Sadly domestic violence and abuse is accepted here. Although there are some Ugandans trying to change it but culturally it is so inbred. One of the lessons taught at the SP Education Centre to the children who attend is all about communicating and talking about problems and how to deal with situations without violence. Sadly it will take a lot of training and a very long time before we see any change. When I saw the young girl the next day, I gave her a gentle hug and praised her as she was feeding one of her young brothers.

Filling the jerry cans
This "touch my heart" incident was two very young girls struggling with 8 empty jerry cans. They had to carry them to the spot in the village where the water man collects them and takes them to the river on his bicycle and brings them back up the hill filled. Not too sure how they then get back to the house but I guess that will be another story. To carry the empty cans, each one almost as tall as the girls themselves, they threaded strips of banana fiber through the handles holding onto each end with the jerry cans slung across their backs. It was a monumental struggle and would have been easier for them to take 2 at a time but I couldn't explain this to them so ended up helping them carry the cans.

The pig farm
Last Sunday we spent with Silagi (our postman) wandering through the village. We visited a piggery project. Several families join together to buy a male and 2 female pigs, build a piggery and they take it in turns weekly to provide the feed for the pigs. When piglets are born they are distributed to each of the families. The pigs are used for cash and not for food in the village. James, near whose house the piggery has been built, was very interested in chatting about Australia and Ryan drew pictures of Australian animals in his visitors book. We came across a walking minstrel who for a little cash stopped and played story-songs for us on a simple one string instrument with a bow. We sat outside the home of one of Silagi's aunties, the house where he grew up, and together with several neighbors listened to the humorous performance. Two of the older women danced and really enjoyed themselves. Along the way we were fed bananas, jackfruit and sweet fried buns.

Andrews story
Today I met Andrew. He is 18 years old and lives with his grandmother near Jinja.
I met him and his sister, Agnes, last year when another volunteer, Susan, took them under her wing when she was here for a month. Agnes was born HIV positive and in March at the age of 13 passed away.
Susan had told me this by email when I let her know I was returning to Uganda this year. So I took Andrew for lunch in town and he told me how in January Agnes had started to get very sick and lose a lot of weight (she was a tiny thing anyway). Agnes soon had to go to hospital in Jinja and Andrew spent weeks by her bedside hoping she would get better. At the same time his grandmother was in hospital in Kampala following a heart attack and he did not want to tell her about Agnes for fear of making her worse.
When Agnes passed away in March, Andrew had to bring her body home and arrange for the funeral and get up the courage to tell his grandmother who was then on her way home from hospital. His father had died from Aids when he was about 5 years old and his mother when he was 11. His father had gone away from home to work for some years after Andrew was born and obviously returned home HIV positive and passed it onto his wife and baby daughter. Andrew is clear of the virus. Andrew said that the doctors did all they could but it must have been God's plan that Agnes should die at the age of 13.

Only in Uganda
The Bujagali boys are still selling jackfruit to the tourists who pass on their way to Bujagali Falls. The Bujagali Chapatti Company is still selling chapattis wrapped in newspaper. Once again I love watching the morning parade of women with overloaded bowls of dirty clothes on their heads walking to the river to do their washing.
There are these constant "only in Uganda/Africa" scenarios:
A man taking the opportunity to wash under the water running off a roof after a sudden downpour of rain,
Charles at the SP Art Centre stirring the paint with a large dead leaf;
Fatia, who has a stall selling paintings near the Nile River Campsite, handing her young son to a mzungu (white person) to walk through the village;
Fred a young man I spoke regularly with last time so thrilled to see me again and that I remembered him rushing off to get me a bag of mangoes. It is mango and avocado season here and I already have two large bags full of each. I have to find more friends to share them with!

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